The Best Kept Secret: The Truth About Giving Birth

The Fruit of Thy Womb:

One of the main reasons why men refuse to cede control to women the right to have control over their own bodies and lives — which necessarily entails access to contraception and abortion — is because if most women knew the whole truth about how pregnancy and childbirth changes your body and how traumatizing and excruciating the pain of childbirth really is for most women, more women would flat out refuse to go through pregnancy and birth. Many people call such women “selfish” for refusing to make the “sacrifices” that procreation and motherhood demands.

[Note the irony: it is mostly those whose bodies and lives that are not immediately impacted who routinely demand that such “sacrifices” be borne by someone else.]

Most women and girls know that birth is painful, but childbirth educators/coaches, other women, and the medical establishment gloss over it. They don’t tell you how bad it really hurts, and that the strain of pushing and the pain alone can bring on cerebral hemorrhage or coronary arrest. Even with tons of pregnancy books and the Internet with You Tube’s collection of actual birth videos, the full truth is not adequately and fully disclosed. There is precious little accurate information on the long-term or permanent post-partum changes to your life and body because no one wants to scare women out of reproducing and risk the diminution of the human race.

The truth is that childbirth is the most excruciatingly painful, humiliating, and horrific experience imaginable for most women. Chances are that your belly, your breasts, your ass, your hips, and your genitals will never be the same as they once were, nor have the same structural integrity and strength they had before pregnancy. But your mother, your aunt, your sister, your friends, your midwife or doctor, your Lamaze coach, and the media do not prepare you for this. Women who’ve experienced this firsthand are often intimidated into silence because of the personal value judgments society generously doles out to them.

Inordinate labor pain, lingering pregnancy weight, stretch marks, varicose veins, damaged genitals, etc., are blamed on the woman. She is told that she must have done something wrong during pregnancy and labor. She is scolded for “complaining” about it, and chastised with “you’re such an ingrate, you have a healthy baby and that’s all that matters.”

Is the potential fruit of our wombs really all that matters? Don’t women matter, too?

Men who have been through childbirth with their partners and witnessed the whole process won’t tell you the whole truth, either. Instead, they peddle stories that are all gummy bears and rainbows with the gravity of the full truth downplayed by euphemisms. This is not, by definition, affording women the ability to make fully informed choices.

Information on the Internet which addresses many of these conveniently overlooked truths about childbirth is actually rather hard to find, but it is out there if you’re a diligent full-time researcher and if you’re wearing your Bullshit Detection Unit.

Many educated, intelligent women who thought they were adequately prepared to endure pregnancy and childbirth were abruptly caught completely off guard by all the things that EVERYONE had conveniently neglected to mention. A lot of these things were bona fide deal-breakers.

Many women would have opted out of pregnancy altogether in the first place by diligently seeking out reliable contraception (or even abortion if necessary), if they had only known the full truth of how it would really impact them.

Meanwhile, other well-informed educated women have a genuine desire for children that overrides their disdain for what pregnancy and birth will do to them. Just as there will always be men who choose to become volunteer firefighters, risking their lives running into burning buildings to save people; there will always be women willing to choose to make the ultimate sacrifice to their bodies, health, and lives. [This is why access to “fully informed choice” is important.]

Privacy and Loss of Dignity:

The first secret is that your last shred of dignity and body integrity will get pitched right out the window. Everyone tells you that labor pains are like strong menstrual cramps. Truth: it’s more like having your body mangled in heavy farm equipment. You are not a “wuss” if you can’t cope without screaming your head off while in this degree of pain. Men and women who have endured less in military combat end up with PTSD.

So do a lot of women who have gone through childbirth. Especially those who have been scolded, yelled at, or even slapped for screaming from the pain while giving birth — even though they were denied pain relief after begging and pleading for it. Pregnant women in labor are the only people whom are viewed as undeserving of having adequate pain relief. For this reason, childbirth for many women amounts to torture that wouldn’t even be legal at Guantanamo.

If people don’t want to hear women screaming in agony from childbirth, maybe society should be encouraging science to develop better ways to reduce or eliminate that degree of traumatic childbirth pain rather than casting personal value judgments on the women going through it. Better yet, maybe society should be encouraging medical science to come up with a way that procreation does not physically encumber and damage women or humiliate them.

About water breaking:

You won’t wonder if you peed accidentally (since urinary incontinence goes hand –in-hand with pregnancy). Instead, you’ll wonder if you fell into a hot tub full of water without realizing it, or if you puncturing a waterbed mattress while sitting on it.

About birth plans:

You lose the right to privacy and genital integrity. You will be laying on a hospital or birthing center bed uncovered from the waist down with your legs spread wide open on public display while enduring the worst agony a human being can experience, while a team of about ten hospital staff members (mostly strangers) are staring intently at your vagina, handling  and prodding it.  I can’t fathom anything more demeaning than being exposed that way while being so unimaginably vulnerable with NO consideration for my feelings and need for privacy — except for suffering the additional indignity of uncontrollable defecation and urination during birth in front of everyone, too. 85% of all women experience this during the birth process, many without knowing it from being in too much pain to realize it.

Pre-emptively administered enemas do not eliminate this because passing an 8 lb baby through your cervix and birth canal compresses the intestines, pushing all fecal matter and urine out of your body. And there will probably be no fewer than ten strangers in the room watching it happen. But those who witness it will probably be too polite to say anything — except for inconsiderate jerks that use this as an emotional blackmail tool against their child’s mother by threatening to tell all their buddies about it, specifically to humiliate her.

So, not only is a generous “money shot” of you in the least dignified position of having your spread legs awkwardly placed in stirrups with your sore and swollen genitals publicly displayed very vulnerably for a herd of strangers to gawk at while you’re in your most vulnerable state and in tons of pain, you face the added indignity of losing control of your bodily functions in front of an audience who are making personal value judgments on you for your labor and childbirth coping ability (or lack thereof). I can’t fathom going through anything like that — not even for a child. I can’t fathom anyone presuming the right to force that on me in the name of being “pro-life.”

Christian conservative politicians (most whom are men whose bodies this will never happen to), are forcing women to go through this against their will in many states across the nation where access to reliable contraception is being denied under specious “fetal personhood” laws and “conscientious objector” laws.

Make no mistake: I am no prude. I have had an annual pelvic exam and pap smear since 14 without any ado (except for the time that an OB/GYN unexpectedly ushered in a dozen medical students that I unceremoniously ordered out of the room).  I am very uninhibited, for the most part.

But I would not cope well with being stared at by a herd of total strangers while going to the bathroom! There are certain things that are off limits. Anyone entertaining the thought of crossing that line with me better be prepared to duck from airborne objects at a speed of Mach-3 ranging from shoes to the anti-bacterial soap dispenser.

Unfortunately, the lack of privacy and the disregard for women’s dignity and genital integrity during birth has driven many women to the Unassisted Childbirth (UC) realm. UC means giving birth totally alone in the privacy of your home with no one else present, or perhaps only your partner. UC-ers claim that childbirth is a “natural process” for women, and that women do not need a medicalized birth environment. They point to the “good ole days” when women gave birth in the privacy of their homes, attended by only a trusted midwife or their husbands.

But those same “good ole days” saw one in five otherwise perfectly healthy young women die an untimely and undignified painful death during or shortly after childbirth. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good for you. In the “good ole days”, women rarely lived to middle-age because unmitigated and endless cycles of pregnancy and birth caused their bodies to prematurely wear out — causing women to die young.

Pain management options:

In the US, there are less pain relief options available than in the UK and Europe. But at least we have epidurals.

An epidural is the “mack daddy” of pain relief, but it doesn’t get administered without a catheter — just what a birthing woman whose genital area is already swollen and sensitive needs, the added pain of catheterization. But depending on the severity and longevity of your tolerance for pain, an epidural may be a really good idea.

The “natural” option is available, but be aware of the fact that foregoing pain relief will not earn you a Congressional Medal of Honor. Nor does it make you a better/stronger woman than the woman with a lower pain tolerance. Any stress and trauma endured by the birthing mother is passed on to the baby. If you are concerned about the effect an epidural will have on the baby you’re thinking of having, you might want to also thoroughly investigate the effects of traumatic and painful births experienced by moms on the babies. Studies published in the Lancet and the BMJ show a correlation between traumatic birth experiences for mothers and negative outcomes for the child. It is not “natural” to avoid ameliorating traumatic pain. How many people opt to have root canals or major surgery without pain relief? Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t qualify it as a “character builder.”

Episiotomies and/or Vaginal Tears:

Whether it is necessary or not, in the US and Canada 85-90% of all birthing women are cut just as the baby’s head begins to crown. Even if you don’t get one, there is an 80% chance that you will tear down there as a direct consequence of giving birth. Episiotomies and severe tears permanently change the muscular strength and structure and the tendon/ligament integrity of the pelvic region, the integrity of the vulva and perineal tissue; and are tantamount to genital mutilation. Even if you specifically draft a formal birth plan stipulating “no episiotomy”, you’ll most likely get one done to you anyway. Episiotomies and severe vaginal tears have caused long-term damage to many women’s genital tracts which caused long-term impairment of a sex life.

Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, a practicing board certified OB/GYN and fellow of the ACOG puts it this way: “With their first and second babies, a lot of women can have pain during sex for as long as six months to one year afterwards. Painful sex after childbirth can even occur if you have a C-section. Some of it comes from the general trauma to the vagina during childbirth or the fact that you may have had stitches after a tear or an episiotomy.”

Now, there are plenty of crackpots who will claim that these indignities and genital traumas only occur if you give birth in a medical environment. Some of these snake oil peddlers are even promoting the notion that childbirth is not traumatic for women and would be orgasmic if women only did it right (privately at home with no spectators). Nice thought and wishful thinking. The truth: it’s very rare.

But the fact is, no matter where women give birth, the act of straining to the point of inviting a stroke or heart attack due to embolism from pushing a baby (whose human brains are larger than other primates) through a pelvis that is too small (due to unintelligent design) leaves 85% of all birthing mothers with torn and maimed genitals and permanently weakened pelvic floors and impaired anal sphincters. This is not an experience that I as a woman would consider orgasmic. But nobody tells women and girls that inconvenient truth.

Internal damage from pregnancy and birth to the parasympathetic nerve system, tendons and ligaments that buttress the pelvic organs and muscles; severe tears and episiotomies, and permanent damage to the bladder, anal sphincter, genital tract region and coccyx tailbone;  leave many women with permanent pain, a permanently damaged body that never fully recovers, and a significant probability of diminishing their future ability to fully enjoy sex.

But women aren’t told this before deciding to endure pregnancy and childbirth. They’re told that “most normal women” give birth as easy as fish swim. They’re told that pregnancy and childbirth, which incapacitates women for a significant period of time, is “nothing.”

If more people knew the fully disclosed truth about pregnancy and childbirth, which leaves so many women disappointed and falsely feeling like failures from their bodies failing to meet the unrealistic expectations imposed on them by society, the war against women’s right to have control over what happens to their bodies and lives these past 30 years would have been stopped cold — people would riot over being denied access to contraceptives based on pharmacists’ religious beliefs that are protected under the 1st Amendment — at the expense of women’s right under the 14th Amendment to not be conscripted into childbirth chattel slavery.

Instead, countless people have been suckered. And most of it originates from 2,000 years of religiously-inspired misogyny that has permeated even the secular realms of our society, including the medical community.

Psychological aroma therapy bullshit sells better than the truth(like vaccination scares, ghost stories, and conspiracy theories). And so women and their partners buy it — hook, line, and sinker.

The Reason Those Chirpy Ads For Depends Target Women:

None of the health magazines, pregnancy and childbirth books, childbirth videos and childbirth education class materials ever mentions the long-term health ramifications like bowel and bladder dysfunction following pregnancy. Fact: 35-50% of all women (depending on age) will suffer permanent bowel or urinary (or both) incontinence following pregnancy and birth. This is the most heavily guarded secrets about childbirth that is swept under the rug and not talked about.

Most women suffering this are even too ashamed to discuss it with their doctors. Instead, they suffer in silence. Their relationships with their partners suffer. The psychological wellbeing of the women suffer. We live in a culture where women are shamed by their bodies’ failures to achieve high expectations, pushed largely by people with an agenda to enforce compulsory pregnancy and birth.

Incontinence is not a trivial matter since it severely impacts one’s ability to get and keep a job, hinders social participation, and impacts women’s sex lives. But the health magazines and childbirth books whitewash this. They lull women into a false sense of security and make women believe that pregnancy and birth is all gummy bears and rainbows. With the loss of your sexual womanhood and everything that made you feel beautiful and special, the loss of your ability to control bodily functions, no one cares about the degree of emotional angst this poses for you. It’s all about the baby now. You’ve created a chromosomal legacy, move over, you don’t count anymore. You don’t exist — except when some asshat humiliates you or ejects you from a public venue for discreetly breastfeeding your little “Miracle of Life” because in the ass-backwards US, a hint of showing breast is an abomination (except for thin and fit young college girls during Spring Break Week at Daytona Beach).  Violent Rambo movies, on the other hand, are perfectly fine for public viewing.

Getting Your Pre-Pregnancy Body Back:

Those Hollywood celebs that seem to “snap right back” to their pre-pregnancy bodies peddle books and videos telling you that you can do it too. For some lucky women, this may be true. But for most, it’s bullshit. Worse, it is bullshit that heaps blame and self-deprecation on women who didn’t “snap right back” — leading to additional undeserved feelings of self-blame and worthlessness.

Many women who have gone through childbirth downplay all of this. “It’s not really so bad”, they say. Bullshit.  Many women won’t admit that it is indeed really that bad because of the constant personal value judgments women get from society. Many won’t admit how painful birth really was, how embarrassing the procedure is, how humiliated and robbed of control over what’s done to your body childbirth really entails, how you never really get your pre-pregnancy body back 100% and how this is so not worth it for a significant number of women — hence, the demand for contraceptives and access to abortion in the event of contraceptive failure.

And the reason there is so much stifling of the full truth is because our society still tells us that women don’t matter — only the fruit of our wombs are valued. Women are still viewed by many — even by some men in the secular community — as merely “vessels to be worn out in childbirth” because that’s what our bodies were “naturally designed for.”  But unlike other primates, a human fetus takes up 100% of the room in its mother’s pelvis and abdominal region, bruising and compressing internal organs and frequently causing permanent damage to healthy young women’s backs. Fractured tailbones are not uncommon during a vaginal delivery (or attempted vaginal delivery). Nature “designed” a lot of other things, too — and many of them are not good for us:

poisonous snakes
hurricanes
earthquakes
tornadoes
shark attacks
flesh eating bacteria
botulism
tapeworms
infectious viruses (Ebola, HIV, polio, influenza, etc.)

….you get the idea.

Truth: if pregnancy and childbirth was really “all that”, every single last vagina-possessing one of us would be procreating like Quiverfull moms Michelle Duggar (mother of 18) and Wendy Jeub (mother of 15).  If pregnancy and childbirth really made women more attractive, it would be the post-partum bodies of FLDS and Quiverfull moms glorified as Playboy centerfolds and pin-up girls on Snap-On tool calendars — loose stomachs, stretchmarks, saggy boobs and all.

For many women, pregnancy and birth means the loss of their sex appeal. Anyone who tells you different is either damn lucky, delusional, or lying. If women’s ability to get pregnant and give birth were really what men see as “beautiful”, then flabby bellies with loose skin and stretch marks, varicose veins, and saggy deflated breasts would be what gets promoted on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition magazine and proudly displayed on Playboy calendars and centerfolds instead of the flawless and fit and slim young models with tight hard-bodies and perky breasts that we see.

Women have way more reasons to avoid having kids than men ever will. When you see a mother, you’re seeing someone who endured and survived a very grueling experience.

For all the hype about having a “positive attitude” and how “beautiful” and “wonderful” childbirth and pregnancy is for “most” women, no one can predict the degree of the awful things that can (and frequently do) happen. Few want to admit the stark reality of how common these negative, life-altering changes really are for a lot of women. Women are shamed into silence if they “whine” about any of this. Mostly, they’re shamed into quiet uncomplaining compliance by selfish men whose bodies will never experience any of these things, yet who demand that women sacrifice their bodies to reproduce the gene pool and perpetuate “family legacy.” Telling women who are having difficulty coping (because they found out the hard way about the negative impacts of childbirth) that they’re just being “irrational” or “hysterical” is nothing short of cruelty and deceit.

So no more lies. There is no Santa Claus. There is no God. And babies are too big and heavy for women’s bodies to carry, and definitely too big to fit through a cervix. Much too big. This is not Intelligent Design, it’s an evolutionary mishap gone awry.

Childbirth permanently changes your body from one of sexually attractive womanhood to one of not-so-sexy motherhood. Very few women are lucky enough escape with only a pouch of loose stomach skin and a few stretch marks. Most are not that fortunate. And only rich women with lots of money can access the benefits of “mommy make-over” surgeries to fix that. Once you’ve signed the mommy contract, you are agreeing to a permanent transformation from being that sexy-looking love goddess to that matronly epitome of motherhood.

In gratitude for sacrificing your body to give birth to some man’s progeny, you also have almost a 50% chance of finding yourself poorer after getting dumped without any claim on his retirement plan, his old age social security benefit, alimony (if he married you in the first place), or health insurance from his job the minute he discards you in favor of his hot young office assistant with perfectly perky breasts and a centerfold body — minus the stretch marks, damaged pelvic floor and genital tract,  and other permanent battle scars of pregnancy and childbirth.

If you understand all of this and still decide to become a mother anyway, great. At least your choice is a fully informed one. Believing something different or clinging to false hopes in order to make you feel better rather than knowing or understanding the truth is, at best, a consolation prize.

Sources:

Thomas Purdon, Preisdent, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).
JAMA 2005; 293: 2141-8.
Agency For Healthcare Research and Quality Evidence Report/Technology Assessment: Number 112.
University of North Carolina, Center for Women’s Health Research
US Dept. of Health & Human Services, National Healthcare Quality Report, 2003
*HCUP, Statistical Brief # 74, May 2009.
BMJ 2000; 321:1043-1047 (28 October)
Depression in New Mothers: Causes, Consequences and Treatment Alternatives“, Kendall-Tackett, 2005.
Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 11, 221-228
Fones, C. (1996). “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Occurring After Painful Childbirth“, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 18, 195-196.
Reynolds, J. L. (1997). “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder After Childbirth: The Phenomenon of Traumatic Birth“, Canadian Medical Journal, 156, 831-835.
O’Driscoll, M. (1994). British Journal of Midwifery, 2, 39-41.
Integrating Trauma Practice Into Primary Care, Banyard, V., Edwards, V., Kendall-Tackett, K.
The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Coping With Mothering Stress, Depression, and Burnout (Kendall-Tackett, 2005).
It’s OK Not to Be OK…Right Now: How to Live Through a Traumatic Experience” (Lerner, 2006)
Medical News Today, 28 June 2007. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ statement on Unassisted Childbirth.

[HCUP is a family of health data bases from hospitals, state agencies and the federal government set up to create a national database.]

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